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U2

Yeah, you're buggin' me. Could you step back a little bit for starters?

Introduction
Boy
October
War
Under A Red Sky
The Unforgettable Fire
The Joshua Tree
Rattle And Hum
Achtung Baby
Zooropa
Pop
All That You Can't Leave Behind
How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
 

The Lineup Card (1980-current)
Bono Vox (Vocals, Synthesizers, Guitars)
The Edge (Guitars, Vocals, Synthesizers)
Adam Clayton (Bass)
Larry Mullen, Jr. (Drums)

From day zero, U2 was calculated to annoy those of us in this world who react in a violent way to unfettered ego. From the big, exploding  echoey New Wave guitar combined with forward-march hard rock backing to the over emotive singing about things you really should be interested in, U2 came on like the debate kid who wants everyone to vote for him for student body president...it's all part of a plan to get the kid into that prestigious Eastern university. He needs it for his resume. Bono always wanted to be student body president of the world, and he's been campaigning for a LONG time now...but the odd thing is, now he's being listened to by the UN and the Pope and President Bush and other such yahoos. He's making it...and for me it screams of a desperate man who has needs. The need to be loved and respected, nearly worshipped. The need to be more than just a dirtyass rock 'n' roll gang. The need to 'show' everyone after every time the band makes a misstep on it's trip to Godhood. It's a chronic problem with U2, this pandering for attention, and to someone like me, it really affects their integrity in my eyes. Listen, U2 is the type of band that puts the Amnesty International mailing address in all of it's liner notes. But, of course, to all you die hard U2 fans out there, it's not quite that simple.

The last thing I'm going to do is sit here and claim that U2 (and Bono in particular, for Bono is the mouthpiece and the frontman and the lyric writer and the one with all the political connections. You think anyone wants to listen to Adam Clayton's opinions on anything? Like hell they do.) is hypocritical in what they do. A lot of bands play benefits and stuff when it's safe and politically correct for them to do so, but U2 has always put their money where their mouths are. And if Bono is able to get some of his (pretty sane and rational, really, like excusing Third World debt) issues some publicity and political attention, then good for him. And talking in a strictly musical sense, it's often quite easy to get caught up in the sway of U2 in full flight...one forgets their inherent pretention and puffiness and just goes with it. But unfortunately often, U2 gets caught up in themselves and makes albums that pander and implode under the self-importance of U2, albums that come across less like Bono is ready to take you on a ride and more like Bono just wants you to shut up and listen to whatever he wants you to hear. So with U2, you'd better go into things with either a healthy level of bullshit tolerance or an unhealthy need for a messiah, because that's what Bono's gonna give ya. Want subtle, witty statements on the trials and tribulations of everyday life? Shop elsewhere, pardner, 'cos you ain't finding that on the shelves here.

All U2 is doing is what every rock band outside of Joy Division-esque psychosis does. They puff themselves up, go onstage, and put their art out there for everyone to look at, because they like the attention. It's just that I'm not sure how darn much U2 like the process of making their art itself, fame removed. It's like if U2 can't be playing in front of packed stadiums of adoring fans, they won't play at all. Larry Mullen, Jr. has often remarked about how much work it is for them to perform, and how they're really not getting off on it too much up there. In other words, they don't do this stuff for fun...they do it for the attention and fame and, erp...money? Possibly. Not like the Beatles didn't, and Led Zeppelin didn't, and Rolling Stones and Who still don't, but does that jibe with the image they want to put forward? That of the dour, religiously didactic enlightened peasant farmers on the cover of The Joshua Tree, doing U2 every day like they're off to plow the fields? Sure doesn't do much for the pure fun content of their work, I'll tell you that much. Maybe it's a cultural thing, that Irish bands are culturally predisposed to be more 'work' than 'fun'.  What few Irish bands as have become well known to me may or may not actually support this idea, (Van Morrison never came across like he was having a great time, and The Cranberries are just howling rubbish, but where do you put Thin Lizzy? Or Rory Gallagher?) but every attempt by U2 to prove to us that they aren't humorless, preachy, egoballs has fallen flat on it's face. So you tell me...is U2 what you really want to be worshipping?

So U2 is, like, super popular and everything, has legions of faithful fans who wear their stoic, black and white t-shirts, and is probably first off the tongue of memorable 80's artists. There's not much shame in liking 'em, even within the grumpy halls of Web Reviewerdom, and you'll probably be quite impressed by everything I've rated highly here. But one interesting fact in the history of U2 is that ever good, solid album is followed by a load of crap (not including the little live albums they put out in the mid-80's, and with one exception, Zooropa and POP, in which they released two total excrement doses in a row) They've even overcome their latest blunder and their new challengers (1997's POP and POPMart Tour, and Radiohead, respectively) and again stand poised to do something awful while the press and fans eat it up, like they almost always have. But please, whatever you do, don't just join the crowd of over-earnest, humorless U2 worshippers. Keep your head at all times. And always remember, you don't HAVE to like everything this band does, just because they tell you to. And crack a damned smile once in awhile at your Amnesty meetings.


Boy - Island 1980

This band blows out its debut album like a bunch of teenage boys freshly blown out of a cannon. Every song intends to be a money shot right on the face, if you know what I mean, and no one must've ever warned U2 about blowing their wad early. Not that the U2 wad is really all that much right now, but they surely go about it like they're making the most important album ever made, and their exuberance is pretty catching, I must say. They get by on juice and hubris instead of instrumental prowess (most of these songs have about 3 notes, except when every guitar note is run through a cheap echoplex set on 'maximum importance', it sounds like a million) and originality (isn't this more or less what the Cure, Psychedelic Furs, and Gang of Four were doing at the same time, except for the big arena singing?), but they also make a very likeable album. And a strangely consistent one...not only do most of these songs sound the same as one another, they're also singing a pretty catchy song for 40 minutes. The only true standout tracks are 'I Will Follow', the hit which which leads off Side 1, and 'Control', where the bass takes its turn as lead instrument in a way that...God, help me, reminds me of a contemporary Rush album track. Jesus...did I really say that? I did, and what's more, I wasn't just putting out a line of bullshit like I usually do to the ladies. Oh, it's got about one millionth the complication of a Rush track, and Bono is a much less vomit-inducing singer than Giddy Lee (sic)...and dammit, I can't stop now. Fuck it...I'll just lay it out for you: Wouldn't Bono have been the best Rush vocalist ever? Jesus, my mind is capable of some real smut when I get it working in the right way. Bono singing 'Tom Sawyer' is something I'd pay $50 to hear, no fucking doubt about that.

But instead, Bono is singing his own damn words and not Neal Peart's, and you'd better have your Loaded Verb Deflector Shield on full blast, because Bono packs this album with enough of the motherfuckers to make a ninth grade poetry student blush. There's so much 'crawling' and 'burning' and 'following' and 'awaking' on here to make one really wonder what the hell Bono is talking about, but it's hard to make the dang things out and easy to let them slide, because of that frigging big noise they keep making. It's blisteringly fast for the ADD'ers out there, enough so that it only slows up twice: on the fragmentary 'Ocean' and the boring closer 'Shadows and Tall Trees'. The only stinker I find here is 'A Day Without Me', where Bono starts babbling a warning about 'a landslide IN MY EEE-GO!' (It was nice for the guy to give us a hint so early on in his career that he was going to be such a Jesus case) over background that strikes me as the most derivative of the album, a TRUE CRAPFEST of all the New Wave-y cliches you care to name. Still, the rest is as listenable as it gets, and while I would always rather listen to The Police's Outlandos d'Amour than Boy, it's really a pretty good buy if you don't mind a lot of minor key leads and 4/4 hard rock beats.

Capn's Final Word: Indicative of what is to come, yet innocent of most of the future indiscretions. U2 makes a solid album and the heads begin to grow larger...

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Spruce  peter.turner15@btopenworld.com     Your Rating: B-
Any Short Comments?: The Cure/Furs sound like U2?[Or vice verca]Are you pissed?Hang on, did you also mention the Gang Of Four?You were definitely pissed!What ridiculous comparisions,get a grip Cap`n!

(Capn's Response: Call me stupid, I get mad. Call me wrong, I get mad. Say I'm pissed and all I can do is shrug and nod my head.)

Valerie Ann     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: The wire guitar player in the photo covering the original record in the first release is...is where?  What happened to the wire guitar player??? The girl who made the one wire piece bought the new release and heaved a sigh.  She was hoping to trip over the wire again.  Has the wire rock star gone to wood?  Is the wire vibrating?  Is the wire sculpter so famous she can't be paid for the work?  Has she married E.T.?  Does she like pizza?  I give the boy albumn an A because its the first letter of the alphabet and I used to live in Canada, A? 

Mike     Your Rating: B
Any Short Comments?: Melodic. Boring.

The Edge stole all his moves from Keith Levene and - especially - Joy Division-era Bernard Sumner. And then added an echo unit.

Am I the only person who thinks that, yes, they can be great...but that U2 is basically Joy Division on one massive dose of Prozac and Jesus complex?

 


October - Island 1981

Far from awful but, somehow always a chore to make it all the way through. October starts out like it's ready to blast Boy out of the water: the minor hit 'Gloria' is 'I Will Follow' done one better, with a more complicated riff, some nice loud/soft dynamics, and enough gas to make it through a...wha?...slide solo section. And these guys were considered 'alternative' back in the day? And Tom Jones is the lost British Invasion idol. That 'huge noise' has just gotten huger with the outro with all it's doubled 'Glooo-ri-aaah!'s dancing all around my headspace. The second song is where we stop throwing fastballs and start with the junk pitches, however. 'I Fall Down' is their first ever (partially) acoustic song, and has enough volume-builds that I think they did the impossible and wore out that trick in two songs. It took Nirvana an album or so to do that, and I think it's because 'I Fall Down', with its pedestrian melody, has not a lot else to believe in but that whooosh into the chorus. Bono takes to almost aping Jim Morrison on parts of  'I Threw A Brick Through A Window', the first instance on record where their pretension is really heinous, taken to an extreme where few bands have lurked. These boys fancy themselves important, you see, and when they all chant together you KNOW you're supposed to feel some 'unity with the oppressed masses' or some other ballsweat, but all I want is that Bono never get the illusion that he's my brother. Oh well.

Did I ever mention that 3/4ths of U2 (not Adam Clayton, who likes to drink and screw chicks too much, but probably got excommunicated because of his unfortunate coiffeur. Heaven's got standards, you know.)  are like, really big Christians of the go-to-church-every-Sunday stripe? And at the time of October, the Trinity Trio had committed themselves to a pretty dogmatic church and were threatening to pull the band apart because of their desire to make every song into a praise vehicle? As a complete surprise to a religious cynic like myself, the overt Christian songs that are here (what, you think 'Gloria' is about going to some chick's house to play tap the turtle or something?)  are pretty much the best ones lyrically and emotionally. 'Rejoice' is as good as anything on Boy, 'With A Shout (Jerusalem)' has a lot of healthy tension/release, and I already mentioned the fantastic 'Gloria'. Smack my barkeep and call me a cab, but this is Christian music that I can live with. Fuck all those Petras and Mark David Chapmans of the world that keep making that bleach-white, religious-faith-as-mayonnaise-sandwich self-congratulatory potty paper. Give me more 'Gloria's! (and Lou Reed 'Jesus's,! and Kinky Friedman 'They Don't Make Jews Like Jesus Anymore's!)

It's just that every song here fancies itself capable of reducing everyone within earshot to tears and thoughtful reflection on the meaning of life and the drams of the blue turtles, when most of the time I just want to shelter my eardrums from the mushy din of muck like 'Stranger In a Strange Land' that appears way too often on the other tracks of the albums. While the melodies on the debut were skeletal and elementary, they were also there, and not created by the mixture of noise and echo pedal like on most of this album's 'songs'. And by treating every song like it's the most worthy song ever played by the hands of Men (or SuperMen), Bono just kills it for me. By track 10 or so, I'm fed up and I only wish the guy'd stop howling, the echo'd stop pulsating, and the album'd stop spinning. October is where the real U2 patsy's get on board, and the rest of us just snicker at the suicidally dreary cover photo. And just get bored.

Capn's Final Word:  Blaming producer Steve Lillywhite for turning the 'regenerate' knob to 11 is missing less than half the reasons to dislike this album. Never viewed as very good even upon release, it certainly hasn't improved with age. Forget this album happened, just like the band has.

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War - Island 1983..

Between the release of October and War, U2 almost packed it in and became another lame casualty of early 80's European post-punk, like your Echos and Bunnymen, your Joy Divisions, and other lovely sorts of death, but their story was a tad different. Wanna hear the story? Okay, pull up a comfy pillow, 'cos it's story time on the Bonanza. Okay, did you all do your home reading before class? Do you remember where I said that three members of U2 (Larry, Bo, and Edgy) were devout, self-martyring Christians (yet not Catholics, which is an important distinction when you're from the Land of Lucky Charms)? Well, things came to a head in 1982 when the three of them joined this particularly virulent strain...er, I mean church, and started doubting the spiritual validity of being a rock 'n' roll band when one should really be devoting one's life to reading 2000 year old fiction novels and tending sheep. Adam Clayton, the only non-thumper in the band (and definitely the only one who ever fucked a supermodel on tour...I mean, I like this guy. The partier/drunkard/funny guy in a group of driftwood religious nuts? Hell yeah, let's go get a pint or two, Adam!) was having none of this jizz and wanted them to just be good ol' fun U2 again, and not sing about ascendance and reincarnation and all that bullshit. So with the three of them on one side and Adam on the other, I think at one point U2 actually split up, but the three musketeers finally caught on to the fact that Adam was right...that rock was righteous (and that Adam should not be castigated for having himself a little tour t-bone every once in awhile), and came back together for what is arguably their best album ever, War.

And this album explodes like a big balloon full of the wrong kind of buoyant gas 'cos U2 have lost their mashed-potato-in-the-ears gloppy production that ruined October, lost the preachy, howly vocals that ruined October, and stopped writing the kind of meandering songs that ruined October. This is quite possibly the hardest album I've ever heard that almost never relies on distorted guitars. The drums return to the jellied jet-fuel propulsion that made Boy so fucking speedy, Edge's guitar loses almost all of its echoey originality but retains its stun-gun slash and burn quality, and there's so much space to walk around in this production that it feels like most of the instruments are actually playing within your body. Only Bono is outside, and Bono is as bombastic as his little Celtic frame can handle. But luckily for us, his passion seems to bleed from his neck, like every time he walked to the recording studio in the morning, he saw a Catholic family get personally evicted by Margaret Thatcher herself. He's pissed, and while sometimes he lays back and lets his political primalism speak for itself ('Seconds', a few others) and sometimes gets all worked up about, you know, love and stuff ('Two Hearts Beat As One'), this is, in my opinion, his career vocal peak.

I feel I can stand behind this album without guilt because this is one of the last instances in which U2 sound like they are are speaking about things that they really feel passionately about. It's by far their most overtly political record (the title ain't Sweet Little Wild Posies on the Roadside, now is it?) but if you don't feel the outrage of 'New Year's Day' when Bono belts out 'the newspapers say...say IT'S TRUE!!! IT'S TRUE!!!) as the snare rattles off another burst of cover fire, you're living in a dreamworld. Of course, Bloody Sunday happened 10 years before this album was even conceived of, but you know, these people have long memories. And at least to American ears, this stuff still sounds prescient in a way that something closer to home, like you know, Neil Young's recent flag-waving single just don't. I mean, is it obvious EXACTLY what 'New Year's Day' is about? Not really. It's just about being outraged at the world and pissed off and young and ready to roll. But that message is not just a bunch of bluster and fist-clenching, the bright piano work and 'I'll be with you again...' hook line show that the future may not suck quite this much if some things change. I like this generalist stuff, I know what it feels like to wish you could leave your country to rot, I know anger. I don't know Belfast, but I feel like maybe I do a little better now after hearing this record. (By the way, my Manx friend Drew says Belfast is a fun place to go and party. Who knew?)

The rest of the album doesn't let up in quality or power. If you want a record to put on before going rioting, and you don't like rap music, this is the one for you. 'Like A Song' is probably better titled 'I Threw A Brick Through A Window', though if you listen, he's actually preaching non-violence. But it sure makes me want to bash some heads, maybe that's a fallacy of putting pacifistic lyrics to music that sounds like the preparations for war. Not all of the Bonoisms strike paydirt, like the clanky lyrics to 'The Refugee', but in that instance the music is interesting enough to save us.

Another, non-thematic point I'd like to make about this album is that War is where U2 begin to vary their sonic palate a bit...violins, pianos, acoustic guitars, and all other manner of flotsam join in with the straight-ahead drumming and never-ending Adam eighth notes to, well, brighten the edges and make this album a lot more listenable than it could've otherwise been. Take the 12-string solo on 'Drowning Man', did you think Edge could play like that? I didn't. But take it as you can, because after this their musical vision became a lot more unclear again (other than maybe Joshua Tree, which pretty much rules incessantly) and never again, never ever never, did they sound this full of youth and beans. War ended up breaking them worldwide, and I say hallelujah for that.

Capn's Final Word: A massive, fast, breathless blast of a record. Something very special. And its got a dirty shirtless kid on the cover for you Catholic priests.

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David Dickson     Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: Ah.  Good review.  Now this is the shit.  Great production, great melodies, and howling, bombastic attitude.  Joshua Tree and Achtung have more intriguing production, but this edges them out in terms of hooks and melodies.  I like this album, believe it or not, for the same reasons I like Hysteria--melodies, production, and power.  The only difference is that the music is essentially post-punk, instead of post-METAL, and the lyrics are about some actual serious issues, as
opposed to the generic parties, booze, and fucking.

Hey, if it makes you feel any better, Adrenalize blows.  I'm not a die-hard Leppard fan.  I just really think one of their albums rules the '80's.  Nothing personal.
 


Under a Blood Red Sky - Island 1984.

A 'mini-LP', which means it was cheap and short, this is a live record from Red Rocks, Colorado on the War tour when even the USA began warming up to U2. Hey, I remember exactly when I heard my first U2 song, sometime in 1984 on Kansas City's FM-rock station KY-102, which used to play Replacements and all this other stuff you'll never hear on radio ever again. It was 'Two Hearts Beat As One', and though not many people new anything about this band until 1985 when Bono's mullet came on and did a solo set at Live Aid, I thought the song was great then. And though I usually sorta snarf at live albums released after only 3 real studio records, I understand what U2 was trying to do here. The U2 live show really was something special back then, at a time when a lot of bands were more interested in how they looked than how well they could hold an audience with their music. This band showed they were capable of playing their songs live just as well as they could in the studio, and they throw in most of their best songs from albums 1-3, so hey! Marketing maneuver! If you were to go and buy this album instead of the first three (and, I suppose, the average idiot could have had trouble finding Boy in 1984) you'd get a nice overview of the rest of U2's work and maybe investigate a little further. It all works out, and I am actually pretty impressed that such a bald-faced sales scheme could come across as being so reasonable.

It's just that by this point in time, Under A Blood Red Sky loses a lot of its original importance because of usual factors: The songs don't change much when played live. 'Gloria' is still as strong as an Austrian, the Boy tunes are still simple as hell but good, and the War stuff lords over the universe like a three-headed demon dog. The only time the songs get altered at all is when Bono goes off on a rant, like the famous 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' one about 'not being a rebel song' as he begins waving 'a flag drained of all color' (a surrender flag, the pansy) which shows that youthful exuberance can sound pretty stupid 20 years on, but if you want a historic document, go for it. The bad part is that all the band does during these parts is just vamp, so to someone like me who doesn't care to think about the visuals he's missing, it's just a waste. The band is fine throughout, and though some of the precision of the studio work is missed (like on 'New Year's Day', which doesn't ever quite lock in due to being rushed mercilessly), there's nothing musical to dislike here at all. 

Capn's Final Word: A fine live album, I don't play it much. Great for young people with too much activism and not enough jobs. Really the last of the angry young U's.

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The Unforgettable Fire - Island 1985

Joining up with Brian Eno in the producer's slot, U2 remake October, but with a weird America obsession replacing their religious zealotry. October was mushily produced, Fire is mushily produced. October had one truly undeniable classic U2 song ('Gloria'), so does Fire ('Pride (In The Name Of Love)'), October was widely seen as a misstep from which the band responded with one of their strongest albums, Fire? Yeah, you get the idea. Score a point for yourself and go and get your U2 Merit Badge and then we'll come back and make lanyard loops and try to hide from the extra 'friendly' camp counselor. 

One difference between these underwhelmers is that Fire really starts out with a three-song flourish that probably misleeds you onto the path of Utter Damnation, making you think that the rest of the album MUST be better than what it actually is. I mean 'A Sort of Homecoming' isn't fantastic or anything, it's no 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For', but it's as good as the mushy atmospherics get on this album, a bunch of Edge ringing all over these voices trying to out-testify each other like a Baptist revival tent full of Salvation Army bell-guys. Or something equally as improbable and most likely as foul-smelling. And 'Pride' is just brilliance, a memorable guitar cadence, a very deliberate marching beat, and the echoey production makes it seem alive. Ever notice that some of the drums have echo on them, but not all of them? Weird, but 'In The Name Of Love' as a vocal hook isn't...I wonder why no one ever used that line before? I guess because no one ever wrote a song about Dr. Martin Luther King before. Or at least never wrote one that played so fast and loose with the facts as to change his time of death. Ah...MLK is more of an icon figure on this song (and album) than an actual dead human being with history and facts, so take this sort of theme with a grain of salt if you wish. And 'Wire'? Man, sometimes I think 'Wire' is my favorite song on this album. It's for sure the only song on here that comes close to the full-snot quickness of War, except that Edge has his guitar on full-delay and isn't afraid to let those wanks just go bouncin' around the room if he wants to. I remember they used this song for this laser show during an assembly in my high school gym, and it was COOL, especially when you catch that the last line is 'here's the rope...here's the rope...swing on it!!!', which ranks up there with Genesis' 'and the children play with needles...needles and pins!' as the most chilling final lines to a song ever.

Then the album quickly degenerates into, well, we're speaking of Genesis, aren't we? The title song sounds like something Phil and the Goobers would have put out around this time. Is that what you want out of your U2? Limp mid-tempo emotional fakiness? Or ass-kicking?  If you opt for the second, you're going to find this the equivalent to shoving upholstery stuffing into your ears and setting it on fire, because they start losing their charm very quickly here. Bono sounds about as self-impressed with lines like 'turn me around tonight...round your spiral staircase, to the final ground' that a simple stabbing death now seems too kind. Possibly opting for selective branding of tender bits might be more in line. And just what the hell the other guys are doing is beyond me as the slow, boring business just rolls on and on. Even 'Bad', which turned out pretty good live, gets lost in all this pig vomit, and no one would've cared about Elvis Presley OR Martin Luther King if they'd lain such trails of tears as the final two songs on this album. Bono's performance on the Elvis song is proof to anyone who claims that Bono is the best vocalist ever that they ought to be euthanized before they breed. Some of these songs here are simply crimes against humanity, like when we gave the entire state of Oklahoma over to the Indians and expected them to run things nicely. Then they just up and sold it for firewater money. U2 deserves all the hatred it gets after putting out side 2 of The Unforgettable Fire.

'Indian Summer Sky' is okay though, it's like a low-inspiration remake of 'Wire'. And probably has to do with the slaughter of the native peoples of the Great American Plains by the makers of Early Times bourbon whiskey.  Fucking Indians. Always killing all the bald eagles for their vain hats.

Capn's Final Word: This band, when not trying to kick our ass, becomes pedestrian and annoying quicker than an Injun gets wasted on distilled perfume.

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John-Paul     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: I don't know, I guess I can see how you could think this is one of U2's weaker albums, but it's my personal favorite after "The Joshua Tree." It is right in between "War" and "The Joshua Tree," both chronologically and musically. It's got the more upbeat rock of "War" but with the epic mystic quality of "The Joshua Tree." There's not a really weak song on here (though "Elvis Presley and America" comes close, and I have to be in the right mood for "Promenade"), and "A Sort of Homecoming" and "Bad" are two of my favorite U2 songs ever.

 


The Joshua Tree - Island 1987.

The Joshua Tree snatched a left-field post-punk 'alternative' 80's band, shook them around a little, and dropped them directly in your momma's lap. By far the most popular album of 1987 that you're not horribly embarrassed to listen to in 2002, this is the album that broke U2 big, blasted them right out of the stratopshere and into the place where people like Beatles and Chicago hang out and smoke big fat Rich Famous People cigars. Seriously, can you name another album from 1987 that sounds as immediately classic as this one? It had it all: 3 hit singles, a couple of nice folkie songs, a few rabble-rousing protest songs, a huge tour, a laughably serious cover photo, a meaningless but philosophical sounding title...it's The Joshua Tree, man!

Here's an ironic fable that illustrates some of the things I dislike about this album before the praise begins. Here 'tis: The Joshua Tree has got to be the U2 album to own if you're the least bit apprehensive about liking rock 'n' roll music. Like, say, you're a young urban professional, and whilst driving to work in your Bavarian Slave Chariot, it would just not do to be listening to, say, Iron Maiden's Powerslave. So aggressive, so lacking in nuance or social commentary that impresses the chicks so much, and all those howling guitars just sounds like it's wrinkling your Armani suit. You could just listen to talk radio, but that gets So Dreadfully Boring because they always seem to sneak some liberal hippie freak on there to ruin the pumping up that the 'normal'  fascist pundits usually give you. You could go all ironic and listen to Billie Holliday or Dizzie Gillespie, but frankly, black people make you nervous and jazz music confuses you. Solution? U2's The Joshua Tree. It's everything you could ask for: it's unsurpassed production quality shows every last penny you spent on your Blaupunkt in-dash CD player, and the music rarely gets loud enough to infringe on important conversations you might be having on your car phone. And once it does, well, that's the fourth song anyway, you're clean out of hits for the rest of the album, and it's time to rewind back to the beginning and get your hit fix again. It was nice how those Scottish boys gave us that signal to restart the album again by putting all the heavy guitars on one song. Sure was nice of them.

I think, unfortunately, this was the way a lot of folks approached this record. Yeah, the first 3 songs on the albums are the big hits, and yes, they're arguably the best songs on the album. 'Where The Streets Have No Name' sounds like a refugee from 'The Unforgettable Fire' sessions (oh yeah, this is another Brian Eno production, but he really hits gold here, no more mush, and what mush there is, like at the beginning of the album, is extremely pretty and useful) but somehow translates all of Bono's lone angry young man stance in one song. He's so intense about whatever quest he's on it's almost as if he's writing a love song to himself, which might get a little annoying. Or you could just get picked up in the whoosh of lines like 'Blowwwwwn by the weeeiiinnnnnddd!!!' and the propulsion of the rhythm section. Remind yourself that this is older, wiser U2, not the youthful rocketry that made War a great blasting success. This is about mood and ambience, and drama, not power and violence. Me? I like throwing bricks through windows. Next up is 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For', which is, to be honest, a continuation of the first song. He's still questing, searching (did he lose his carkeys? his virginity? Hey YOU!!! Dirty Whore! Give me back my innocence!) and he's still self-mythologizing, and not for the last fucking time, either. Bono the writer is inflating Bono the personality, even in a song that's pretty obviously a religious one. Ehh, if we're gonna sit here and argue about all the ways from here on out that Bono makes himself out to be a Jesus figure, we'll never finish this page. The song is pretty good, though, so let's just go with it.

The next song is the real prize for me, though, ripped off from an old Suicide song or not,, and that song is 'With Or Without You', probably the first instance wherein U2 actually did something new for themselves after 1980 or so. It's based on the simplest four-note bass figure you'll ever hear, the rest is all a bunch of synth echos and some of the moodiest Bono vox you'll come across. but what's special about the song is its cry from the darkness atmosphere coupled with a slow build that is opiate effective. Next up is the simplistic, but enjoyably different 'Bullet The Blue Sky', like War with an overdriven slide guitar and a refreshingly irritating rap from Bono's arsehole. But that's it for the distinctive songs on this one, unless you call a bunch of samey mid-tempo folk-pop tunes to be something extra special. I mean, there's some charm to these live-in-the-studiosounding runthroughs, but I always feel quite underwhelmed by the rest of this record, especially tunes like 'In God's Country', which attempt to connect with some sort of inner-Irishness, but end up just with a forgettable song. When these are on the 8-track, I doubt you're going to go 'yuck' and threaten the CD with a good microwaving like you might Fire, and 'Trip Through Your Wires' is cool in a pseudo Bruce Springdangle and the E-Streaker band way, but I often have trouble remembering just what the hell the melodies to these songs are, and I've heard this album a MILLION times. It all sounds finer than a ducks ass, thanks to the perfection of Brian Eno's dangly parts, but man, Side B of this thing is sorta flat. Where's the earth-shattering guitar echoes? Where's the velocity? Where's the interesting choruses? Alas, mate, but you have lost the U2 of old for good now.

But still, this is some U2 goodness that simply cannot be denied. So the album sputters not even halfway through. What if none of the songs on here rock in any meaningful way? What if some political prisoner gets a beating because YOU didn't buy this album and JOIN AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL like our four fools want you to? Will you be able to sleep if you don't have a copy of U2's highly overrated but still fine 1987 album?

Capn's Final Word: Rock albums were so across-the-board awful in 1987 that something as overwhelmingly okay as this album was held up as the new Sgt. Pepper. You don't live in 1987 anymore, but you're still sorta supposed to own this record. I wouldn't fight popular opinion too fiercely.

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David Dickson  ddickson@rice.edu   Your Rating: A-
Any Short Comments?: This is decent, but overrated.  I wholeheartedly agree with you on the War Being U2's Best Album Assessment. 

However--strongly disagree on the Rock Albums Being Across-The-Board Awful In 1987 Assessment.  Check out the album Hysteria, by Def Leppard.  It is, in my opinion, the best rock album of the 1980's. 

No, I'm not joking.  Or drunk.

(Capn's Response: You haven't ruled out stupid.)

ChelseaDrugstore     Your Rating: A-
Any Short Comments?: Bono was still not grating on us too much at this time so no deductions for him. What bugs me abou this album, keeps it from being an unmitigated classic is what IMO is wrong with all U2 albums: they all fizzle out towards the end. It's like the Capn said: side 2 seriously loses you. I used to never even listen to the last two cuts. And this was after I felt like I knew the album inside out. Before I even got to Side 2 I used to do exactly what Capn says. After Cut 4 I go back to the top. On Achtung Baby this is even more obvious. That one should have ended after "Throwing Your Arms..."


 


Rattle and Hum - Island 1988.

Revisionist history has been way too kind to this masturbatory film soundtrack to a masturbatory film about a masturbatory world tour by a masturbatory rock 'n' roll act. It is the pure peak of U2's self-love, and contempt for their audience as anything other than someone to buy their records and fall tot heir knees in worship. It was hated upon release and should continue to be seen as one of the biggest blunders ever by a band that could have released a record of fart noises and had it go gold. (Oh, they did! The Passengers record!) There's so much ego stroking on this record that you might feel inclined to buy a box of Kleenex and mail it to Dublin c/o Bono's Big Head. And they don't waste time to get right down in there with the lubed-up fist. This record starts off with a truly unlistenable version of the Beatles' 'Helter Skelter' which is so bad I prefer the Motley Crue version off Shout At The Devil by a mile. Then you get Edge croaking out his version of a Times-era Dylan bitch and moan protest song which gets faded out before the end by the producer because apparently he couldn't stand any more either. The live songs of familiar material are without exception so far below the quality of the studio versions that this album loses its main battle before it's even surrendered with the white flag. Is this really the same band who played Red Rocks in 1983?

Then comes the real joy d'excrement, as U2 takes on some more live covers like the carelessly performed 'All Along The Watchtower'. Favorite infamously awful inter-song lines to be heard on this record:

1. 'Am I buggin' ya? I don't mean ta bug ya. Edge...play the blues!!!' ('Silver and Gold'. Edge then responds by going *twank twank twanktwanktwank twanktwanktwanktwank twan ktwanktwanktwank twanktwanktwanktwanktwank* as his echo pedal takes over his actual guitar playing duties completely.)

2. 'The God I believe in isn't short o' cash, mister' (''Bullet The Blue Blue Sky', no comment needed. Apparently Bono's Hotline to the Lord is working.)

3. 'All I've got is a red guitar, three chords, and the truth!!' (replacing a line in 'Watchtower', which means you may have the Truth, but you have no respect for Bob Dylan's lyrics if you think you can rewrite this song as you please.)

4. Interviewer: 'What do you think has changed about the band since the recording of The Joshua Tree?'

    Unidentified member of band: 'mumble mumble mumble.....HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAA!!!!!!'

You have a 'Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For' gone whole-hog fat black choir gospel and totally down the crapper, are presented with incomprehensible between-song interview segments ala The Last Waltz (did they not realize those were a big mistake?), have the Lucky Town-era (read: shitty) Springsteen-esque outtake called 'Silver and Gold' slung at us, a limp country satire called 'Love Rescue Me' recorded at Sun Studios for no good reason, B.B. King gets run through the darker regions of self-aggrandizement in U2's lower intestine as a cameo appearance on 'When Love Came To Town', 'Heartland' is simply boring, 'God Part 2' is a horrendously awful beat-boxed continuation of John Lennon's 'God' (as if anyone asked for one, especially from U2) that acts as an oddly accurate foreshadowing of the lameness to come in 1991-1997. They play a tape of Jimi Hendrix's 'Star Spangled Banner'. Do you get where all these covers and such are leading to? Yes, indeed, U2 fancy themselves to be among the Gods of rock music, able to sit next to B.B. King and cover the Beatles and Dylan and no one can tell the difference when U2 plays their own songs. Well, sorry, guys, it doesn't work like that around here. Not only do your covers suck ass, the mere mention of you in the same breath as the Beatles or Jimi Hendrix is liable to make me choke back laughter. Thee hath dug thy grave and stepped one foot in, dear U2'ers. It will take a long time to wash away the stench of this album.

As for good songs, there are a very very few. 'Desire' was quite understandably a big hit, and it's pretty sad to think of how many people got sucked into buying this bucket of llama piss because they heard this Diddley-rock mania on the radio. 'Hawkmoon 269' is a fair bit of Joshua Tree-second-side outtake, worth nearly nothing, but lacking any vicious bouts of badness. Of the old live songs, 'Pride' must be pretty hard to screw up with a 30,000-strong audience singing along, but Bono tries his best...luckily the song rebounds. The ending 'All I Want Is You' is one of the last pretty yet powerful ballads this band was able to pull off. 'Angel Of Harlem' tries it's best to identify with New York black people circa 1950, which is pretty misguided, but the joyful melody, lighthearted singing by Bono, and bright horns really bring this song home. U2 wouldn't be this melodic and fun again for a very long time.

Capn's Final Word: It's not every day an album of this standard of bullshit gets released, especially by a well-respected rock group. Judging by their recent singles collections, the band still quite likes it. They must feel the fans in 1990 wringed them. They didn't. Stay away from buying this one, or better, illegally copy it for the few good songs.

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Cole     Your Rating: C
Any Short Comments?: "Van Dieman's Land" is one of my favorite U2nes (get it? was that clever or what?), partly because Bono didn't sing it. without his wailing and gnashing of teeth, it actually sounds somewhat sincere. otherwise this is just another piece of evidence for my theory that double-albums are lame.

Dan Cronin danielcron@sbcglobal.net     Your Rating: C-
Any Short Comments?:	Bono's original into to "All Along The Watch Tower":  "This is a Song Jimi Hendrix stole from Bob Dylan, and we're stealin' it back..."

Achtung Baby  - Island 1991.

Jumping on to the electronica bandwagon first doesn't necessarily make your decision any less vile to the rest of us who have had enough breakbeats in rock songs in the last 5 years to satisfy even the most Chlamydia-encrusted house music whore in Europe. U2 saw grafting their instruments over electronic disco music as a revitalizing gesture after the failure of Rattle & Hum, and at times the synthesis is pretty great, but overall I feel like U2 have dropped the ball of effective melody to flirt with the ditzy cheerleader named trendiness. It's not like this is the last album they did this on (they had another two, ever more despicable electronic-y albums), and their immersion in irony and smarminess on the ensuing tour(s) are gladly spared us here, for the most part. In reality, a lot of the songs come across like more second-side Joshua Tree mid-tempo pop-nothings, just with some slightly more 'hip' production. Take the massive breakdown in quality control called 'One'...it blends in so well with the forgotten side 2 Joshua tossoffs like 'Mothers Of The Disappeared' that I wonder why it was even considered for this record. Where's the melody, for Christ's sake? And the message...fuck!!! 'We're one but we're not the same...', well thanks Mr. Coming Down the Mount, sir...I personally am glad I'm not you, you short hairy freak. But my true venom is reserved for the guitar player on this one. Possibly playing more than the same chord progression over and over again occurred to you, but you did nothing about it. And I guess the only artistic growth you've done since 'I Will Follow' is to turn off your echo pedal and play fewer notes. Good for you, moron. This song is the sound of U2 dying before our very eyes. Say goodnight, Gracie.

Okay, there's the main offender on the record. Forget a lot of that ranting, but it must be said that the U2 of old is gone for good and I liked them a lot better than this one. Anyhow, I don't quite like the first side other than that shitstain, I like how 'Even Better Than The Real Thing' has that wave-breaking over the shore effect, 'The End of The World' has a cool chorus lick and solo section, but 'So Cruel' is corny and has some groan-inducing lyric balks, and 'Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses' starts a trend of the oversensitive U2 ballad with long rambling titles that sound meaningful but are ultimately annoying and a total lack of melody and blah blah blah blah blah. If you like profanity and badly written expressions of hatred like these, you're gonna love my Zooropa review.

Hey, did you know this is a concept album? I read in some incoherent corporate rock mag or another that Achtung Baby follows the nocturnal adventures of a man busy cheating on his wife in the Big City, you know, going to bars and paying whores to spank him and all that ('Zoo Station', 'Even Better...'), and how he tries to beat down his guilt ('Until The End Of The World') but only ends up getting sucked further into the stuff ('The Fly') until he thinks he's fallen in love with some night creature ('Mysterious Ways'). He ends up waking up in the gutter one morning and decides to walk home and beg to be able to have sex only with his boring wife again ('Ultra Violet'), reaches self-awareness and his wife's forgiveness after his confessional, ('Acrobat'), and then starts the process of going out and screwing chicks and getting wasted all over again (with 'Love Is Blindness'). I'm not exactly sure that the album follows this storyline as closely as the author of that review thought it did, but it does fit to an extent and may help your enjoyment of this record. I mean, it's no rock opera, not even Berlin, but it sorta has a progression, if you try hard. Which only shows in glaring relief how badly the sensitive limpdick ballads 'One' and 'Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses' fit in with everything else. What points exactly are they supposed to be making in terms of the story? Eh, the minute Bono writes lyrics as well as Pete Townshend is the day Britney Spears gets elected the Queen of the Universe. And stars in a commerical free network broadcast of an all-anal hardcore porno film.

Hmm, still lots of songs left to describe, but I'll be quick about it. Everyone loves this record, but I've really begun to hate the dang thing when I'm not totally in the mood for some sub-KMFDM Euro-rock-over-badly-programmed-808. 'The Fly' is a horrendously ugly remake of 'Bullet The Blue Sky' over the most clichéd beat you may ever come across that isn't on POP and is best left to die alone and scared with its generic fat black woman backup singer (yes, it has one, just like a C+C Music Factory smash failure). It's just these attempts at hipness that make this the Ipecac of popular 90's record albums for me. I should've just mentioned the fact that it commits the cardinal sin of rhyming 'change' and 'rearrange' in the final lines of the song. Death by potato peeler may be too kind for Mr. Hewson. The hit 'Mysterious Ways' is a LOT better, has a fine hook and a bunch of gook on the guitars to keep it interesting. 'Ultra Violet' is the closest to 'good ol' melodic U2' you get on the whole record, sort of related to the better songs on Fire, I'd say. Nothing too special, but the chiming guitars and delightfully straight-up rock rhythm section sticks out like a laser beam on this album. The last two songs are suitably harsh and dark, and the album is over and ready to sit on the shelf for another few years.

So U2 try out a last 'grand statement' on Achtung Baby, but also compromise themselves. If I found it hard to take U2 seriously at all after R&H, Achtung Baby makes it ever more difficult for me to believe that U2 was ever much more than a fairly interesting Joy Division ripoff that somehow made a great record in 1983. It shows them up to be hacks, mere market whores who manage to cover up some of the carnage by throwing a few melodic bones our way on this record. After this, it's downhill pretty fast, so if you have a fetish for any of the hits on this record I suggest you grab this one and forget about the rest of 90's U2. But if you have any sort of allergy to egotistical lyrics grafted on spineless ballads by a formerly decent band, steer clear.

Capn's Final Word: Hateable, dated, overrated. But probably something you might like exists on here, and the story isn't horrible.

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George Rickerson rickersong@umsystem.edu    Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: Even good reviewers (you are one) miss it sometimes.  This album is a masterpiece, rewards repeated playing.  "The Fly" is genius.  The whole album is a tour de force.

(Capn's Response: Funny, I always thought it was a tour of Edge's effects rack.)

Vladimir Mihajlovic vladimir_gilmour@hotmail.com    Your Rating: B+
Any Short Comments?: A great album.There are a couple of boring songs like Trying to throw your arms around the world and so Cruel.But songs like Zoo Station,Even Better than the real thing,One,The fly,Mysterious ways,Until the end of the world,Acrobat,Love is blindless are amazing.I especially love the way The Edge sounds.It's the only U2 album I have for now and thanks to it I am thinking about getting some other ones as well.I recommend this to anyone who enjoys great music.

Derek B     Your Rating: A-
Any Short Comments?: I have to say pretty close to a masterpiece, it has some great ones. It is not Joshua Tree or Unforgettable Fire but it is great. The way the band is able to change with time is great. They bring it with "The Fly", "Mysterious Ways", "ONE", and "End Of The World". Never a dull moment with this album. Keep up the great work. However they got to experimental on the next two albums after this but, GREATEST BAND IN THE WORLD PERIOD!!!

 


Zooropa  - Island 1993..

The absolute bottom of the barrel for this group, venturing even lower than the depths of Rattle & Hum, on down into the miles-deep fissures where  there is absolute darkness, songs are blind and live off the heat given off by neighboring CD's in the album racks. This album is where U2's electronica obsession goes way overboard from a few beats and sound effects like on Achtung Baby, into whole-hog samplitude. One can go through this album and pick out all of the electronic cliches, but it's a lot more fun just to turn the album off and save yourself from having to endure this draggy, melodically retarded drool cup of awfulness. Choruses consist of the name of the song ranted over and over, either that or something even less memorable. The Edge thought his only necessary contribution needed to be the comatose treated vocals on the awful 'Numb', which uses almost the same backing track noises as 'Unsatisfied' by the Replacements but 10 years later and, you know, with shit for brains. The other hit (why? weren't there good bands around making good hits in 1993, like Nirvana?) 'Lemon' is pure disco fluff, but bad disco fluff sung in a gay falsetto by Boner.

The rest I'm going through quickly because it's worse, other than 'Stay (Faraway, So Close)', which is the only song with discernable guitar on it, and is merely as dull as watching a motherfucking kid keep making the same buzzing noise with his lips for minutes on end. Edge used to be able to change chords, but alas! No more! 'Some Days Are Better Than Others' is more minimalistic dance crap, 'The Wanderer' now takes Johnny Cash and drags him behind a horse through the shit of this album...it's just embarrassing. There is so little to recommend this album, and every time I put it on, I not only get this unmistakable taste of lemon juice in my mouth after listening to 'Lemon', and I also visualise Bono in his Mr. MacPhisto stage costume, which simply makes me want to bathe myself and clean off the dirty feeling. This era of U2 was poisonous.

Capn's Final Word: Real electronica isn't near this bad. Real U2 albums (ones that aren't tossed off during a tour) aren't nearly this bad, either. This is what happens when U2 doesn't try.

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mr macphisto johny_lister@hotmail.com   Your Rating: B
Any Short Comments?: u really are a bit of an arse like, u wouldnt know wot a great album was if it jumped up and slapped u in the face with a big neon sign saying class all over it! u2 are the best band ever and its about time u forgot about also rans like the beatles and boyzone u big girl! thank christ for mark chapman because the likes of lennon are pathetic. long live bono for he is a legend! feel free to reply

 

Joe Silva     Your Rating: F
Any Short Comments?: Boy, thanks for finally setting the record straight.  Zooroopa is absolutely awful.  Besides Van Halen's Van Halen 3, I have never heard a worse release by a major band.  Of course it got a bunch of praise for its stupid electronic drums, but after a while they really get on my nerves.

Oh, by the way, Mr. Macphisto, a band that shatters attendence records around the world like the Beatles did are hardly "also-rans." That has got to be one of the stupidest things I have ever heard anyone say.  If you have a problem with good music, great, but don't drag the rest of the world down with you. Idiot.

 


POP  - Island 1997..

Still far from being any good at all, in a measurable sense anyway, but damn if it doesn't beat Zooropa into the ground and urinate on its head. Hey, did you hear about the funny thing that the Rolling Stones didn't do? Well, when this album was released, everyone knew it was going to be called POP because U2 were, like, so over doing rock music anymore. Well, the Stones were going to name their 1997 album ROCK in response, but they failed to do so because 1) POP failed, and no one wants to tie their album into a bomb, and 2) The Rolling Stones album didn't rock too good anyway, so it was a moot point. This album is a lot more 'electronic' in the Big Beat, Chemical Brothers way that you're used to, not in the quiet, boring undanceable way of Zooropa, and not in the U2-with-beat-grafts way of Achtung Baby. Not that any self-respecting dance fan would go for this album, but there you go. U2 fails to satisfy its rock fans (who no doubt knew better than to trust U2 by then), fails to satisfy dance fans, and just plain fails.

There's also a mighty high badness count on this record ('Miami', 'Mofo', 'If You Wear That Velvet Dress' and 'The Playboy Mansion' being standout bad tracks), just in case you got the idea that because this is a C+, and Rattle and Hum is a C+, that this album may have 3 or 4 good solid songs on it like Rattle and Hum did. Nope. It's a matter of shit to goodness ratio, and these albums are about equal in that regard. I can explain it like this. If I were to give you a diamond ring, and then have an elephant shit on it, that would be Rattle and Hum. 'Desire' and 'Angel of Harlem' are really great songs, and a few others on there are okay, but the rest is so amazingly horribly awful that you feel tainted just trying to get to the singles. Zooropa is just a pile of shit with, say, a plastic engagement ring from a Cracker Jack box and a half-eaten shoe in it. This album isn't shit, but it's definitely dirty as all get out. These songs are mostly just unengaging and unmemorable, not actually guilty of major crimes. They simply nickle and dime ya to death with their lack of goodness. Bono doesn't even let the God complex go on this record, calling for the 'dead man' to 'wake up' on the last song. He just doesn't learn, does he? It's not that we don't like songs about God. We don't like songs about Bono and God, that's all.

There is some cause for celebration on here, albeit a muted sort of celebration. The opening 'Discotheque' is the most fun they've ever had with their electronica thing, it opens with a cool flourish, has some neat 'humph!' sounds in the final chorus, and leaves the listener with a good feeling. 'Last Night On Earth' has an interesting bit of grittiness to it. But 'Staring At The Sun' is drab downer pseudo-rock, a lot of the other songs are based on a lame funky guitar riff and those ever-incessant Big Beat drums, and Bono's vocals have lost quite a bit of their power. He's singing about mushy conceits and making shallow philosophical proclamations more than he's writing songs that go somewhere. I guess it was all understandable for them to do this album in 1997, that being the Big Bastard Year of Electronic Hype (after all the real electronic artists had all but packed it in), but they'd already done two of these albums before it. The result? No one bought this album (in comparison with other U2 albums, anyway...even Zooropa outsold this one) and even fewer people wanted to go to the ultra-ironic PopMart tour with it's McDonald's stage set and half-filled stadiums just a-echoing away with the sound of plastic seats unmuffled by human bodies. Was it not obvious that the whole ZooNation irony thing they'd been milking since 1991 had finally played itself out to an audience that was tired of the same joke being told over and over? The question following this record was where U2 was going next. If, as I believe, they'd lost their old spark a long time back and had been coasting on professionalism and production even at the time of The Joshua Tree, was a return to 'pure U2' possible, even desirable? Whatever it would be, it would sure stink of pandering to the audience...that was unavoidable.

Capn's Final Word: A lot of flailing for no purpose. Probably not worth thinking very hard about, this is U2 combining bad songwriting, conforming to trends, and boredom in one long package. Some U2 professionalism and craft makes itself known, though.

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All That You Can't Leave Behind  - Interscope 2000..

Certainly better, and U2 gets their way by not jettisoning all of their electronic paraphernalia, only the most obviously heinous of the stuff. Everyone expected another Joshua Tree out of this album once the first singles broke, and that's not what U2 give ya. They're still defiantly technical and unquestionably professional, it's just that they make the album sound like it was made by humans (albeit old, rich ones) rather than by a McDonald's drive-thru menu. They also (hey!) play the old trick of putting all the radio-ready songs at the beginning of the album where they'll be listened to most often. We open with 'Beautiful Day', that of the massively hooky chorus and even better bridge section ('What you don't have you don't need it now...'), and that of the boring techno-ey verse part and clunky lyrics and weak verse singing. Bono used to just blast himself through songs, something he's unable to do anymore, apparently, so he compensates by saying a lot of bad poetry and relying on his sensitive self. Hmm, I wonder which one I prefer? The loud, turbocharged Bono howl of the early 1980's or the creaky Bono of 2000? I guess we can't win 'em all, can we? If only I could just win a few, I could pay off those bets I lost on the Rams last year.

Songs like 'Stuck In A Moment' make me think that U2 stuck more to their trip-hop roots more than people might realise. This song sounds like a beefed-up  Zooropa outtake with a retooled, singalong chorus. Take away the chorus, turn up the echoey background and you have the perfect thing to place between 'Numb' and 'Lemon'. I don't like this one...it's cloying and patronizing. 'Elevation' is a POP-esque song with louder guitars and some of the more childish lyrics to come from the pen of Bono. It also has a hook, if you're willing to admit that REM's Monster had hooks, which is clearly this bastard track's long-lost father. I quite like the more uplifting 'Walk On' despite the section that's ripped wholesale from Pink Floyd's 'Brain Damage' from Dark Side of The Moon.  This is the first of the tracks that sounds like something the band that made The Unforgettable Fire could've progressed to. And remember, Fire mostly wasn't too good. But this track is just fine. Good banging piano, some neato backup harmonies, and very clear. 'Kite' sounds as if U2 has been sampling a bit of Spiritualized but was unable to make the orchestration work right. There's a sweet ballad 'In A Little While', and a sweet folk-rock acoustic song 'Wild Honey', both of which are kinder and more pure fun than anything on side 2 of The Joshua Tree. What's interesting to note on All You Can't Leave is how sincere everything sounds on here....after all those damned costumes and sunglasses and sets and bullshit for the last 10 years, we're finally allowed to enjoy U2 being themselves. Of course, Bono being himself is being a person who sings a song as bad as 'Peace On Earth', but I guess some folks might find that song uplifting or some crap like that. Me? I'm uplifted a lot faster by a rockin' chorus released after a great build, but some people need to hear all that crap about Jesus I guess. Oh, okay, it's not as bad as 'Wake Up Dead Man', so there's another small notch in the bedpost. Side 2, like usual, begins to get boring because all the singles are played out and they start to enjoy the sound of their voices too much again, but these are complaints as old as the day is long, and while I still haven't found what I'm looking for in the discotheque, I'm gonna swallow my pride with or without you. And if you wear that velvet dress to the Playboy Mansion in Miami, don't be surprised if I wake up my dead man and ride your wild horses , if you 'please' my 'lemon' and I think you do. Is that all, you say? Well, two hearts beat as one only for a few seconds before I surrendered with a shout onto your babyface, so honey, do you feel loved? Is it your first time? I thought it might be since it's a sunday bloody sunday, and I'm staring at the scarlet. And tomorrow's gonna be a bad, dirty day when you find that the wanderer has walked on away from your desire on over to the angel of Harlem's house, which is situated where the streets have no name. He didn't even give you any silver and gold, the mofo.

 I'm simply happy that U2 sound like they're content to make music and not big statements and set trends any more. No, this won't make you forget Boy, War, The Joshua Tree, or the better songs on Achtung Baby, and there's a certain part of me that feels manipulated into place by this record, but it's just as easy to stifle that little voice of complaint and simply enjoy the pleasures to be had here. The old power is gone for good, these guys are now officially old, but if they keep cranking out albums like this, at least I don't have to be forced to hate them any longer.

Capn's Final Word: U2's best album in years, not much to really be ashamed of on here. The basic rock reputation doesn't fit too well, but the melodies can stick around.

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Mike     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: Absolutely gorgeous, one of the best releases of the 2000's and a career highlight for the band. I said a lot of nasty things about them before, but this really is fantastic. There are so many good songs here! Even "The Joshua Tree" didn't have this many. "Beautiful Day" is, well, beautiful, and "Walk On" is utterly moving. Yay!

 


How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb  - Interscope 2004..

The Lads Drained of All Color pushed this album so goddamn hard here in the US when it came out a couple of months back, from their scenery-chomping appearance on Saturday Night Live to their (for me, anyway) shocking turn towards consumerism with their I-Pod commercials (on which their song 'Vertigo' seemed to have a different mix every time. Sometimes all drums, sometimes all Edge. Were the network sound mixers just fucking with me, or was this intentional?) that I was sure it was going to suck donuts directly out of the Dunkin's from a distance of 100 meters.  After all, the last time they were so bent on over-exposing themselves prior to the release of an album was for Pop back in 1997, and we can all remember what a prize $0.99 'get em outta my sight' bargain bin beer coaster that album turned out to be. But we have faith in U2. They remediated their crimes against musicality in the 1990's somewhat with the simulated heart-feltedness of All You Can't Leave Behind a few years back.  That album was half a calculated, contrived return to form and half an actual return to form, and seemed to ring in the fact that, if you want U2 around at all anymore, and you want to insist they keep their grubby mitts off the drum machines, you'll have to accept them for their professionalism and competence and stop expecting them to sprout another War from their foreheads. At the time, I was willing to take that step. After all, U2 once really were a great band, and can still put on the 'great band' face when they want to, and seeing them perform live, even on television, is still an admittedly electrifying experience as they actually seem like they know what they're doing. In comparison, newbie critics-darling bands like the Killers, Hives or the Strokes don't have a goddamn clue as far as I can tell.

And though it doesn't truly suck, I'm still disappointed that How to Depress a Record Reviewer asks me to suspend disbelief even more than the last one did. They're even more formula-reliant, more manipulative, and less able to rock convincingly' The album seems to rely way too much on the fast ballad/rocker hybrid tearjerker of the sort that packed Unforgettable Fire way back when, supposedly building up to that inevitable middle-8 Climax© that's supposed to bring the shivers rolling down the ol' vertebrate column and the fans pouring into the aisles.  The problem with Atomic Bong is that it never does - the laughably saccharine 'Oh! You! Look! So Beautiful! Tonight!' clincher line on 'City of Blinding Lights' sounds stripped from my worst Lite Hits Radio nightmares (but wait...isn't Lite Hits Radio exactly where U2 find their most comfortable home nowadays? Let classic rock radio have their 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' and their 'Pride (In The Name of Love)', the Friends set needs their 'One' and their 'With Or Without You' or they'll be liable to spill their half-caf lofat soy green tea chai latte on your head and kick you with their Old Navy faux-suede boots.) The same trick is applied over and over and over again on this record. 'Miracle Drug' very nearly works as a glorious forest of chiming delay pedals until the terribly misconceived slide guitar breakdown, followed by yet another Climax© that kills the goodwill of the opening three minutes. 'Crumbs From Your Table' and 'Yahweh' use the Climax© with even less care, the latter dragged completely through the mud by it's treatment.  Soft, ruminative verse. Loud, big echoey chord chorus. Middle eight that pushes it that much higher. Adam Clayton playing root eighth notes while Larry Mullen Junior concocts yet another imperceptibly slight variation on the same 2-4 drumbeat he's been using since Boy. I used to think that Van Halen ended up as one of the least imaginative rhythm sections in all of rock music, but now I realize that Alex is actually pretty good with his cymbals, and U2 almost has a motherfucking Roland Groovebox back there. No wonder they were able to make their electronica thing stretch out to three albums - it took two before anyone realized those drums weren't real!

Not that U2 ever was the Who or anything, but the rockin' parts ain't too good, either - 'All Because of You' falls completely apart on the rhythm section's inability to play the forcebeat pound necessary to put the verse across, not to mention the chorus sounding like it was pasted together by committee. There's no continuity to the groove of the song, and the turns it takes always seem jarring instead of natural. In the end, it sounds like U2 trying their damndest to make a rocker that doesn't sound like all their others, and finding themselves completely without a roadmap as to how to do it. Now, I happen to sorta enjoy 'Vertigo' as a dumb arena-rockin' leadoff single, mostly because of the god-like tone of the guitars rather than any true love for the riff or (ick) Bono's strained hipster vocals (the truly awful 'Gimme what I want and no one gets hurt' - Right, man. Keep playing Jesus and leave the tough guy shtick to WWF wrestlers like Henry Rollins, who also has a problem shutting the fuck up), but it cannot be denied that the hook was ripped completely off of Sonic Youth's 'Dirty Boots'. It actually took me about an hour of thinking really hard for me to figure out where I'd heard that 'Hello, Hello' thing before. Okay, maybe 'Vertigo' actually does suck, but it's one of the few memorable things off this Instant Megasmash, so I'll just praise those guitar tones again. Nice. I see that Edge is performing a lot of songs using an Epiphone Sheraton II (their Gibson ES-335 knockoff), just like mine, giving me hope that someday I, too, will be making hundreds of millions of dollars off of lucrative contracts with Apple selling a $5 I-Pod case upgrade and a bunch of mp3 files someone could easily get for free for $350 because it says 'U2' on it.

So if you leave out the rockers and the 'big' ballads, you're left with the good stuff. I feel the love and sincerity inherent in 'Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own', featuring a thankfully more skillful use of the Climax©, but also the wooden, genuine feel of a tune conceived on acoustic instruments instead of Pro Tools. Can't even stand that much manipulation? Try the very lovable acoustic/Mellotron mid-tempo 'A Man and a Woman', which could almost pass for a song off the second side of War. But a good thing can be taken too far, and the overlush Nashville shoegazer sleepyland of 'One Step Closer' leaves me but a step away from taking a mid-morning nap.

How to Dismantle Your Credibility, mostly, feels like a middling effort that the band tried to massage into shape with liberal use of their formulas.  Bono pulls off very few memorable lines this time, and overcompensated by singing too many goddamn words all the time, as if he were to shut up for five seconds people might realize this album isn't as good as the last one. The quietest numbers are the best, and I can't sit here and say that Bono's lost his ability to put across a feeling when he wants to.  It's just that the shamelessness and predictability of some of the manipulative gimmicks (the Climax© most definitely included) preempt much of that and end up sabotaging the rescue operation. Plus they sound like sissy-faced poseurs when they try to rock out.

Capn's Final Word: Just a bit too much of a stretch to make to convince myself this formulaic cheddar block is good music. I suppose it is U2 music, though, if that's enough for ya.

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Ron  Ron2112@cox.net   Your Rating: B+
Any Short Comments?: Hmmmmmm...gotta disagree on this one.  On fist listen, this whole album sounded a bit slow to me, but it's really growing on me.  A lot more than either "Pop" or "ATYCLB" did.

By the way, I really disagree that ATYCLB is a better album than either "Pop" or this one.  "Pop" was big disappointment when it first came out, but now 8 years down the road, it seems to have really aged quite nicely.  ATYCLB has gone in the opposite direction.  When it came out, everyone greeted it as the savior of the rock genre, but it really strikes me now as an uneven effort.  Four great songs ("Beautiful Day," "Elevation," "Kite," "Walk On") mixed in with six or seven others that are just completely forgetable or downright lame.

Still a huge fan of your site though...I read every new review you post these days.  Keep up the good work.


Pasepd    Your Rating: A-
Any Short Comments?: Why this music can touch my soul so easily is beyond me. I realize that Bono is a self-worshipping sell-out bastard, but that aside, these guys can really easily stir my emotions, and that is the main reason I listen to music. The guitars always sound so sad and echoey, it's addicting. Like watching a really good sad movie (some people can't stand it). They continue to do this here. Sometimes they can be too preachy, but who cares.

 

Andrea   venus_garden@hotmail.com   Your Rating: B+
Any Short Comments?: Christ, I don't think I've come close to spending this much time collecting my thoughts on U2.

Bomb is the album that could've been better (The B-sides I've heard so far are stronger than what made the actual album...). It is far better than ATYCLB. For Bono's proclaimations that this was to be their rock album, they were still only at 10. (The "11" amps didn't show up until the tour.) Love and Peace is the only one that gets close, but kinda loses me with the chimey middle-eight. Adam's bass has never been more perfect than in that song and he truly makes it. For a better sounding album, seek ye out the Import With Twelve Tracks Rather Than Eleven. Fast Cars should've been on all releases, adding a sound completely unlike any other U2 Song In History.

And as far as the Lite Rock Hell stuff goes, Portland is a strange U2 city. One of the two LRH stations has played, um, one U2 song twice, and I think that was Streets, (and not mind-numbing Stuck In a Moment that wouls so perfectly fit in with their setlist) and the other station only regularly plays stuff from Joshua Tree as well, with a few 90's hits weasling their way in.
 

Mike     Your Rating: C
Any Short Comments?: How to take an atomic shit.

 


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